Firewall: Traditional, UTM and NGFW. Understanding the difference

One of the problem nowadays when we talk about firewalls is to understand what actually a firewall is and what means the acronym that are used to define the different type of firewalls.
The common definition today recognizes 3 main types of firewalls:

• Firewalls

But what are the differences (if any) between those things?
Let’s start with the very basic: what a firewall is.

Simulação da participação de um Firewall entre...
Simulação da participação de um Firewall entre uma LAN e uma WAN Français : Schéma d’un pare-feu entre un LAN et un WAN (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A firewall is software used to maintain the security of a private network. Firewalls block unauthorized access to or from private networks and are often employed to prevent unauthorized Web users or illicit software from gaining access to private networks connected to the Internet. A firewall may be implemented using hardware, software, or a combination of both.
A firewall is recognized as the first line of defense in securing sensitive information. For better safety, the data can be encrypted.
Firewalls generally use two or more of the following methods:

Packet Filtering: Firewalls filter packets that attempt to enter or leave a network and either accept or reject them depending on the predefined set of filter rules.

• Application Gateway: The application gateway technique employs security methods applied to certain applications such as Telnet and File Transfer Protocol servers.

Circuit-Level Gateway: A circuit-level gateway applies these methods when a connection such as Transmission Control Protocol is established and packets start to move.

• Proxy Servers: Proxy servers can mask real network addresses and intercept every message that enters or leaves a network.

Stateful Inspection or Dynamic Packet Filtering: This method compares not just the header information, but also a packet’s most important inbound and outbound data parts. These are then compared to a trusted information database for characteristic matches. This determines whether the information is authorized to cross the firewall into the network.

The limit of the firewall itself is that works only on the protocol side (IPTCPUDP) without knowledge of higher level of risks that can cross the network.

From virus to content filtering there is a hundreds thousands different technologies that can complement firewall works in order to protect our resources.

To address the more complex security environment firewall evolved into something new, that cover different aspect above the simple protocol inspection. Those devices uses different technologies to address different aspect of security in one single box, the so called UTM (Unified Threat Management)

Unified Threat Management (UTM)

Unified threat management (UTM) refers to a specific kind of IT product that combines several key elements of network security to offer a comprehensive security package to buyers.

A unified threat management solution involves combining the utility of a firewall with other guards against unauthorized network traffic along with various filters and network maintenance tools, such as anti-virus programs.

The emergence of unified threat management is a relatively new phenomenon, because the various aspects that make up these products used to be sold separately. However, by selecting a UTM solution, businesses and organization can deal with just one vendor, which may be more efficient. Unified threat management solutions may also promote easier installation and updates for security systems, although others contend that a single point of access and security can be a liability in some cases.

UTM are gaining momentum but have, yet, a lack of understanding of the context and the users, therefore are not the best suit to address the new environments. In order to drive those gap security researchers moved onto upper layer and form protocol moved to applications, where user behavior and context are key.

This moved from UTM to the so called Next Generation Firewall or NGFW

next-generation firewall (NGFW)

A next-generation firewall (NGFW) is a hardware- or software-based network security system that is able to detect and block sophisticated attacks by enforcing security policies at the application level, as well as at the port and protocol level.
Next-generation firewalls integrate three key assets: enterprise firewall capabilities, an intrusion prevention system (IPS) and application control. Like the introduction of stateful inspection in first-generation firewalls, NGFWs bring additional context to the firewall’s decision-making process by providing it with the ability to understand the details of the Web application traffic passing through it and taking action to block traffic that might exploit vulnerabilities

Next-generation firewalls combine the capabilities of traditional firewalls — including packet filtering, network address translation (NAT), URL blocking and virtual private networks (VPNs) — with Quality of Service (QoS) functionality and features not traditionally found in firewall products.

These include intrusion prevention, SSL and SSH inspection, deep-packet inspection and reputation-based malware detection as well as application awareness. The application-specific capabilities are meant to thwart the growing number of application attacks taking place on layers 4-7 of the OSI network stack.

The simple definition of application control is the ability to detect an application based on the application’s content vs. the traditional layer 4 protocol. Since many application providers are moving to a Web-based delivery model, the ability to detect an application based on the content is important while working only at protocol level is almost worthless.

Yet in the market is still not easy to understand what an UTM is and what is a NGFW


Next-Generation Firewalls were defined by Gartner as a firewall with Application Control, User-Awareness and Intrusion Detection. So basically a NGFW is a firewall that move from creating rules based on IPport to a firewall that create its rules based on User, Application and other parameters.
The difference is, basically, the shift from the old TCPIP protocol model to a new UserApplicationContext one.
On the other end UTM are a mix of technologies that address different security aspect, from antivirus to content filtering, from web security to email security, all upon a firewall. Some of those technologies can require to be configured to recognize users while seldom deal with applications.
In the market the problem is that nowadays traditional firewall does not exist anymore, even in the area of personalhomesoho environment. Most of them are UTM based.


Quite most of the firewall vendors moves from old firewalls to either UTM or NGFW offering, in most of the case NGFW offer also UTM functions while most of the UTM added NGFW application control functions creating, de facto a new generation of product changing the landscape with the introduction of Next Generation UTM

UTM vendors and NGFW vendors keep fighting on what is the best solution in modern environment, but this is a marketing fight more than a technical sound discussion.

The real thing is that UTM and NGFW are becoming more and more the same thing.

NOTE it’s all about rules.

Why security devices become so comprehensive and try to unify such a lot of services? Management is the last piece of the puzzle. In two separate studies, one by Gartner and one by Verizon Data’s Risk Analysis team, it was shown that an overwhelmingly large percentage of security breaches were caused by simple configuration errors. Gartner says “More than 95% of firewall breaches are caused by firewall misconfigurations, not firewall flaws.” Verizon’s estimate is even higher, at 96%. Both agree that the vast majority of our customers’ security problems are caused by implementing security products that are too difficult to use. The answer? Put it all in one place and make it easy to manage. The best security in the world is USELESS unless you can manage it effectively.

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Firewall: Traditional, UTM and NGFW. Understanding the difference was originally published on The Puchi Herald Magazine


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